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A car chase is the vehicular pursuit of a criminal by law enforcement officers. Car chases are often captured on film and broadcast thanks to the availability of video footage recorded by police cars and police and media helicopters participating in the chase. They are a popular subject with media and audiences due to their intensity and drama and the innate danger of high-speed driving.

In reality

Car chases occur when a criminal attempts to use a vehicle to escape from law enforcement attempting to arrest them. The crime committed may be as serious as murder, or lesser crime such as a traffic infraction. When the criminal realizes that they have been spotted by law enforcement, they attempt to lose their pursuers by driving away, sometimes at high speed. In 2002, 700 pursuits were reported in the city of Los Angelesmarker. Police use a number of techniques to end chases, from pleading with the driver to more forceful methods such as the PIT maneuver and use of spike strips.

The February 2005 Macquarie Fields riots occurred in Sydneymarker, Australia after a local driver crashed a stolen vehicle into a tree, killing his two passengers following a high-speed police pursuit. The death of university student Clea Rose following a police chase in Canberramarker sparked major recriminations over police pursuit policies. Ole Christian Bach was found shot and killed in Sweden in a presumed suicide after he had been followed in a car chase by Swedish undercover police.

Reality television has combined with the car chase genre in a number of television shows and specials featuring real footage, mostly taken from police cruisers and law enforcement or media helicopters of actual criminals fleeing from police.

One of the most bizarre police chases ever recorded occurred when an M60 Patton tank was stolen by Shawn Nelson from an Army National Guard armory, on May 17, 1995. Nelson went on a rampage through San Diego, Californiamarker, with the massive tank crushing multiple civilian vehicles before wrecking its tread on the concrete median barrier of the freeway divider. Police were able to get aboard the tank and open the hatch, though had to resort to lethal force when the suspect would not surrender.

Marvin Heemeyer went on a killdozer rampage of Granby, Coloradomarker, wrecking 13 buildings including the town hall, the public library, a bank, a concrete batch plant, and a house owned by the town's former mayor, resulting in over $7 million in damage. The police were initially powerless, as all of their weapons could not penetrate the suspect's vehicle. However, the killdozer's engine failed and the machine became stuck, so Heemeyer committed suicide by gunshot.

Risks and legal considerations

High-speed car chases are recognized as a road safety problem, as vehicles not involved in the pursuit may be hit by the criminal, who will often violate a number of traffic laws in their attempt to escape, or by the pursuing police cars. In the UK, it is estimated that 40 people a year are killed in road traffic incidents involving police, most as a result of a police pursuit.

Kristie's Law is a proposed California law that would restrict immunity for damage (including injuries or deaths) caused by high-speed pursuits, where law enforcement agencies have established, but not followed, written pursuit policies.

In 2007, the United States Supreme Courtmarker held in Scott v. Harris, (05-1631), that a "police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death."

In most common law jurisdictions, the fireman's rule prevents police officers injured in such pursuits from filing civil lawsuits for monetary damages against the fleeing criminals, because such injuries are supposed to be an inherent risk of the job. Public outrage at such immunity has resulted in statutory exceptions. One example is California Civil Code Section 1714.9 (enacted 1982), which reinstates liability where the criminal knew or should have known that the police were present.

In film

In television and film, the term "car chase" refers to a scene involving one or more automobiles pursuing one another; the chase may or may not involve a police car. Car chases are a staple of the action movie genre, and feature-length films have been built entirely around car chases, often featuring high-powered, exotic vehicles. They are popular because they are fast moving scenes that generate a great deal of excitement and action, due to the speed of the vehicles involved, and the potential collisions and the debris resulting from the wreckage, while not being hugely expensive to stage.Although car chases on film were staged as early as the motor vehicle itself, the first modern car chase is generally seen as that in 1968's Bullitt. The chase in this film was far longer and far faster than what had gone before, and placed cameras so that the audience felt as though they were inside the car. Even during the most calamitous scenes, the star - Steve McQueen - could be clearly seen at the wheel of the vehicle. The French Connection further increased the realism. While previous chases had been filmed on closed roads and isolated highways, The French Connection placed the chase in the midst of busy traffic and pedestrians. Further after this was The Seven-Ups, which featured Bill Hickman as one of the drivers who previously featured in Bullitt, which contained a frantic chase again through New York, and was regarded as having many qualities similar to that of Bullitt.

As time went on, so did the expectations of the movie car chase. Since Bullitt, car chases featured in movies have continually become more advanced and therefore more entertaining. Car crashes have also formed an increasingly important role, with the destruction of any vehicle often coming as a delight to the viewer. An early example of a staged but startling accident in a movie chase can be found in the 1974 movie McQ, which featured an incredible rollover, the first cannon rollover in fact, across a beach. The spectacle came at a cost for the stuntdriver Hal Needham however, who sustained multiple injuries after setting the explosives too high.

Arguably the most typical car chase is one in which a car is being pursued by police cars. In part because car chases are so common many movie makers try to introduce a new twists to them. One of the most famous variations is from The French Connection and involves a car chasing an elevated train. Chases involving buses, trucks, snowmobiles, tanks, and virtually every other type of vehicle (with or without wheels) have appeared in one film or another.

Probably the most complex type of car chase involves going the wrong way in moderately congested freeway traffic (e.g. Ronin, To Live and Die in L.A.). There are also a number of films that feature complex large-scale chases involving a lot of vehicles in the pursuit. Notable examples including The Blues Brothers, The Transporter, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Mad Max 2

Another method of escalating a car chase scene is to have a character move from one vehicle to another and to fight in or on top of a moving vehicle. The Wachowski Brothers used this in The Matrix Reloaded.

Several television shows have been built around the popularity of car chases, such as The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider and Airwolf.

In more modern times, the use of computer-generated imagery is becoming increasingly popular, and, although costly (and with a careful eye, easily distinguished from a real car chase) eliminates any danger level. While impressive at times, it is often argued that it eliminates the realism of the chase scene, which can then in turn damage the established thrill factor. Recent examples of this computer-generated imagery can be found in the Michael Bay films Bad Boys II and The Island. An example of a lower budget film using computer-generated imagery in a car chase is RSTC: Reserve Spy Training Corps. Driven was particularly panned for its CGI car chase sequences. Such criticism has affected recent Hollywood productions, for example films like Ronin, The Bourne Supremacy, The Kingdom and The Dark Knight having car chases filmed for real, with the CGI used minimally, if at all.

In the film Hot Fuzz, the scene where Angel chases the speeding car has been declared the shortest car chase in film history. The scene, as discovered in interviews, was done on purpose.

Notable car chase films

In computer and video games

Certain racing computer and video games with police cars have car chase (pursuit) racing/evasion modes. Notable examples of such games include the following:

See also


  1. Los Angeles urges media to curb coverage of police chases -
  2. Independent Police Complaints Commission
  3. VaRaces - The Movie Car Chase Database

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